Civic Life

PHOTOS: Hundreds take to Santa Cruz streets to honor George Floyd a year after his death

Hundreds took part Tuesday night in a gathering and vigil at the county courthouse to commemorate the first anniversary of the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

Hundreds gathered on the steps of Santa Cruz County Superior Court Tuesday night as county residents marked one year since the murder of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white police officer in Minneapolis.

The Santa Cruz branch of the NAACP and the Santa Cruz Black Coalition for Justice & Racial Equity hosted the event, which local activist Joy Flynn described as “a community gathering and a vigil to mark the one-year anniversary of that public lynching.”

“It’s a vigil,” Flynn told Lookout’s Kevin Painchaud, “but also a celebration of the work that’s been done — but not to forget the work that needs to continue to be done.”

Also in attendance was Santa Cruz City Councilmember Justin Cummings, who was the city’s mayor last year when protests erupted after Floyd’s death. Cummings played a visible role in both the community’s immediate reaction to the tragedy and in efforts since, for equity and racial justice and dismantling systemic racism.

In his most visible statement, then-Mayor Cummings knelt next to Santa Cruz Police Chief Andy Mills at a protest on Pacific Avenue last year — a moment captured in a photo that quickly made its way around the internet.

Reaction to that photo “has been mixed,” Cummings told Painchaud. “Some people see it as me kind of siding with the police; I see it and other people see it — as the police chief really being in solidarity with the Black community.

“For me, I just keep my eye on the fact that I never thought I’d be working closely with the police chief of the city that I live in who cares about this and actually wants to make change and that for me is something I wish we could see in other communities.”

Cummings, whose term as mayor ended in December, echoed Flynn’s sentiment that much work remains while noting that he’s seen a surge of backing for the Black community.

“With all the people who have shown up for this and are in support of the Black community,” he said, “it goes to show that there are a lot of people in the community who care and want to work toward having a better society overall.”

Local support for the Black Lives Matter movement wasn’t very evident in the recent past, Cummings said, but that has changed dramatically.

“We didn’t see people putting signs in their windows or wearing T-shirts, but last year, it really hit home — hard,” he said. “I think now people aren’t afraid to be as outspoken about it, and are really trying to make it aware that they care about the Black community and that we’re in this together.”

See photos from Tuesday night’s march in the gallery above.